Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Fans frustrated as Toro lose again

The atmosphere in the Stadio Grande Torino on Sunday afternoon was a strange one, even before the match with Fiorentina kicked off.

The fixture against Fiorentina is usually a surreal match, and has been described as a 'festival of friendship' due to the gemellaggio (twinning) between the two sets of supporters due to their mutual dislike of Juventus, never has the saying 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' been more apt.

However, the atmosphere on Sunday was different. This was in part due to the tragic death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori two weeks ago, which meant that there was a sombre mood around the stadium, and Torino ultras paraded a 'ciao Davide' banner before kick off  that was well received by the travelling Fiorentina supporters.

There was also seeds of discontent amongst the home supporters who were unhappy at how their season has derailed in recent weeks. After a promising start to Walter Mazzarri's reign as Toro coach, where the Granata picked up an impressive eleven points out of a possible fifteen the Granata had lost three consecutive games prior to this match.

Mazzarri's unbeaten record as Toro coach ended with a 1-0 home defeat to Juventus in mid-February, and despite their impressive form, the timid performance of Torino in that match was heavily criticised. Former Torino striker Marco Ferrante questioned the teams 'courage' as the players almost seemed content with a narrow defeat in a match that is, for the supporters at least, the most important of the season. 

Defeats against Hellas Verona and Roma followed and the Torino supporters unveiled a number of banners criticising both the players and club ahead of the Fiorentina match. 

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'You only think about money and on the pitch you don't fight anymore' one of the banners read and the team were greeted onto the pitch with whistles and jeers at the beginning of the second half after a disappointing first half performance.

Sometimes it takes an outsider's view to gain some perspective on a situation, and I attended Sunday's match with my girlfriend, who despite disliking football, reluctantly agreed to attend her first ever live match. Upon hearing the jeers of the Maratona she rhetorically asked 'well that's not going to help the players is it?'

Whilst I was in total agreement with her, I could also understand the frustrations of the Toro supporters who had decided to protest. Toro currently find themselves in Serie A purgatory, where they are not good enough to qualify for Europe but are also too good to find themselves in a relegation battle, so they find themselves in mid-table, with little to aim for. 

Supporters would probably accept mid-table mediocrity as long as it was combined with entertaining football, young talents being given opportunities and the odd impressive victory over top six opponents, however, Toro have not been able to provide this either. Talented youngsters such as Kevin Bonifazi, Antonio Barreca and Simone Edera are having their progress stifled by more experienced players who continue to under perform. In addition, Toro have also only beaten one top ten opponent all season, and that was a Lazio team who had Ciro Immobile harshly sent off before half time. 

Whilst teams with similar wage budgets such as Atalanta and Sampdoria are troubling the established elite, Toro are left wondering what might have been. When Sinisa Mihajlovic was sacked in January and replaced by Walter Mazzarri, this was seen as a move to try and re-energise the clubs target of European football. However, Torino did not reinforce their squad at all in the January transfer window, despite there being obvious areas in which improvement was needed.

It is fair to say that luck has also not been on Toro's side this season, captain Andrea Belotti has struggled to replicate last season's excellent form and has suffered with a number of injuries. As has promising Brazilian defender Lyanco who has rarely been able to partner the outstanding Nicolas N'Koulou in the heart of the Toro defence. Speaking of whom, the Cameroon international has been a rare positive in this disappointing campaign, and sporting director Gianluca Petrachi must prioritise retaining his services on a permanent basis in the summer. 

After another disappointing performance on Sunday, Toro fell to a fourth consecutive defeat to all but end their chances of European qualification, and if performances do not improve, the protests may not end there.  

Forza Toro

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